Canon Powershot SD600 Review
The PowerShot SD600 is one of the latest additions to Canon's very popular "ultra compact" Digital ELPH line (as of 4/2006.) This user friendly model includes many high-end features such as 6-megapixels of resolution, a large 2.5-inch anti-glare LCD, 640x480 30fps movie mode as well as various easy to use exposure modes, all jam packed into its durable all metal body. Beginners will appreciate the fully automatic scene modes that offer point-n-shoot simplicity, while still being able to control the white balance, ISO sensitivity, metering and much more with the Manual mode.
Since the introduction of the S100 back in 2000, the first Digital ELPH from Canon, we have always been very impressed with the excellent design of these models. The SD600 has continued the tradition of sleek style and rigid design. Even though the size is just about as compact as a deck of playing cards, it still fits comfortably in your hands and one-handed shooting is a snap. The well positioned controls fall naturally underneath your finger tips, and we especially like the zoom controls being mounted around the shutter release. Its 2.5-inch LCD has both an anti- glare coating and brightness adjustment, making it usable even on the brightest of days. When shooting in marginal lighting conditions (indoors, at night, etc.), the display "gains up" very well, which helps aid in framing; something you could never do with film. You can also opt to use the zoom-coupled optical viewfinder, just remember it only shows about 80-85% of the captured image.
As with all Canon models, the Menu system is very easy to navigate, and the Function menu allows for quick and easy changes to various camera settings. For times when using the self-timer to include yourself in group photos without the benefit of a tripod, there are tiny little feet that are built into the bottom and side of the camera body, allowing it to be placed on an even surface; which is also useful for long exposures.
Shooting performance was very robust with power up until the first image captured took only 1.3 seconds! Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing an image, was almost instantaneous (less than 1/10 of a second) when pre-focused, and only 1/10 of a second including autofocus. In single image drive mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.3 seconds without flash, and at intervals of between 1.8 and 3 seconds with flash depending on subject distance. Using the continuous (burst) mode, I was able to capture 10 frames in only 3.8 seconds. When shooting in burst mode, the LCD briefly displays the last image captured making it difficult to follow moving subjects; You'll achieve better results using the optical viewfinder. Our tests were done using a Sandisk Extreme III 1GB SD card, Manual mode, Large SuperFine quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Image quality, when using Large SuperFine mode, was good for a 6-megapixle model. The majority of our outdoor samples were sharp and showed good overall exposure. However, I did notice a bit of edge softness on some of our images, but no more than the typical consumer camera. Color saturation is pleasing for a coNsumer model, and when you're feeling a bit creative, there are a multitude of "My Colors" to choose from (Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, B&W, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, or Custom Color) to give your images that certain look; you can even adjust the color after you have already captured an image. The SD600's 3x optical zoom lens offers an average zoom range of approx. 35-105mm (in 35mm equivalence), which provides a moderate wide angle field of view for interior and landscape shots, and telephoto coverage useful for portraits or to bring your subjects a bit closer. The lens exhibited moderate barrel distortion at wide angle, but relatively no pin cushioning at the telephoto end of the zoom range. Noise levels were good when using lower ISO speeds (ISO 80 or 100 for example), but as we see all to often with consumer models, as the sensitivity is increased so does the amount of visible noise. Luckily, the camera does do a great job of using the lowest setting possible when the ISO is set to Auto.
According to Canon, the SD600's built-in flash can cover up to approx. 12 feet at wide angle and using ISO Auto. I found it did well when shooting indoors or in any low lighting situation, as long as you were not more than say 10 feet away. The best results were achieved when shooting couple or individual portraits from about 4 - 6 feet away. Our portrait samples showed good flash exposure and skin tones appear very natural. I did notice traces of red-eye in some of our people pictures when using the Auto flash mode. However, most of this can be remedied by switching to the dedicated Red-eye reduction flash mode or spending a few seconds in any image editing software. As you can see from our candy dish sample, the SD600 has a respectable macro focus mode. You can focus on subjects as close as 1.2 inches from the lens, and the flash does a excellent job of squelching its output to ensure the subject is not overexposed.
Movie mode produced pleasing results both indoors and out. I noticed very little compression noise and the AF system did well at keeping up with fast moving objects. You can see for yourself by taking a look at our examples on the samples page. If you plan on taking lots of movies, we strongly recommend you purchase a large 512MB to 2GB SD card, as the camera consumes about 1.9MB per second!
Tiny cameras need tiny batteries, but the SD600's proprietary 3.7v 760mAh Li-ion packs some punch. Canon claims you can capture 160 shots with the LCD on or 600 shots with it off or a replay time of approx. 240 minutes. I had no problems capturing our sample photos (over 100 images) and concluded some of our other tests (with extensive use of the LCD) on a single charge. However, even with such good battery life, we still recommend the purchase of a second pack because the camera cannot be powered by any other type of battery. Canon includes a very compact and portable AC charger that takes about 95 minutes to charge a fully depleted pack. The charger plugs directly into an 100-240V AC outlet and has fold-away prongs, which makes out to be very convenient for storing away.
Bottom line - The Canon PowerShot SD600 is a welcomed addition to this awesome ultra-compact line. Not only can this model be carried in any size pocket, it's ready to capture that special moment in an instant with such robust performance. Image quality was very good for a consumer model, and with 6-megapixels you'll have plenty of resolution to create photo-lab quality 8x10-inch or larger prints. The only items we recommend you add to your purchase are a high capacity SD card and an extra NB-4L battery pack. With a street price of around US$349 or less, it offers an excellent value for such a durable and capable digicam.
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